Through my experiences traveling to two of Spain’s historical autonomous communities, Basque Country and Catalonia, I have been able to witness the high degree of cultural diversity that exists within Spain as well as the conflicts that such diversity has ignited throughout history as well as today. As I am beginning to reflect on my semester in Spain and my experiences both in and outside of the classroom, I have realized that Spain’s cultural diversity is continuing to grow. However, similar to its long history of promoting homogeneity, the nation continues to face challenges accepting and creating space for such cultural diversity. The image to the left represents a protest in the center of Madrid with citizens protesting EU regulations, of which Spain has agreed to, that have denied immigrants of basic human rights.
To continue my work on the expression of regional and nationalist identity in public space in the Spanish regions of País Vasco (Basque Country) and Cataluña, I recently visited San Sebastián, one of the two major cities in Basque Country. During my first few hours walking through the “Parte Vieja,” or “Old Part” of the city, the graffiti as well as the various stickers with writing in Euskera (the native language of Basque Country) immediately stood out to me. One of the stickers that I saw over and over again practically every time I turned a corner, is the one displayed in this picture above that says, “Euskal Preso ETA Iheslariak Extera.” I later even noticed several banners hanging from various balconies throughout the city that had the same emblem and slogan.
Back in January I reported on the case of Raúl Capín, an independent Spanish photojournalist who is facing potential jail time after photographing police activity at a major public demonstration in February 2013. The case, which has received little attention outside of Spain (aside from an interview I did with Jeffrey McAndrew for his US-based “News and Notes” podcast), has major implications for the present and future of Spanish democracy at a time when the country continues to witness the impact of the infamous Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) that went into effect in 2015. After police were unable to produce sufficient evidence against Capín in advance of his initial trial date in January, the trial was postponed until February 23, and on that day I returned to the courthouse in Madrid to observe the atmosphere surrounding the trial. In the street outside I spoke with a group of Capín supporters. Later I went inside the courthouse, spoke with some of the people gathered there, and waited until Capín emerged from the courtroom. Finally, I left the building and was able to record some of the photojournalist’s remarks as he was greeted by supporters and members of the media outside.
My name is Julianne DeGuardi and I’m a junior at St Lawrence University where I am majoring in Global Studies and Spanish. This semester while I am studying abroad in Madrid I will be contributing to the “Weaving the Streets & People’s History Archive” (WSPHA) project. I am planning to travel to San Sebastian in País Vasco (Basque Country) and Barcelona in Cataluña in order to analyze how regional identity and nationalist sentiments are expressed through the use of public space in each of these cities.
This week I had the opportunity to interview one of the professors involved in our study abroad program here in Spain, Professor Dr. Aida Bueno Sarduy. Dr. Sarduy is our professor of Migrations and Diversity here in Madrid and is originally from Cuba. Having been exiled by the Cuban government in 1992 Dr. Sarduy was given refuge here in Madrid to live and pursue her studies in anthropology. Over the past 24 years she has studied immigrant populations here in Madrid and as well in Brazil.
As Europe continues to confront a series of interlocking crises - austerity cuts, undemocratic power structures, migration pressures, rising xenophobia and far-right movements, threats to free speech, climate change, just to name a few - the Plan B movement has emerged as one focus of pan-European efforts to chart a new future grounded in the struggle for social justice. This past weekend Plan B brought its progressive message of grassroots resistance to Madrid for the "Against Austerity - For a Democratic Europe" summit. While I wasn't able to attend as much of the summit as I would have liked - the available seats for most of the sessions were taken weeks ago - I was able to report from the closing event, which was held outdoors and featured a range of speakers representing various sectors of civil society.
The overriding message was one of anger at the bankers and European Union power brokers, along with a hopeful belief in the power of the people to chart a better future. Under this larger umbrella, I was struck by several elements of the agenda that was so passionately presented by the speakers on the stage and so enthusiastically received by the crowd. First, the central role of women in the movement was obvious. Many of the most effective speeches were made by women who are actively involved in creating change. As one speaker put it, "Plan B will be feminist, or it won't happen at all!" Second, the experience of what Plan B calls the "financial coup d’état" carried out in Greece by the EU weighed heavily on the proceedings, with numerous speakers hammering home the anti-austerity/anti-debt slogan of "We don't owe and we won't pay!" Third, there were many sobering references to the specter of fascism, with speakers noting the parallels between the current period and the mid-1930s, when Spain's civil war served as a prelude to a darker future. With all of this in mind, it was heartening to hear the crowd chanting an old slogan that remains deeply relevant today: "¡No pasarán!" (They shall not pass!) - whether "they" are xenophobic nationalists, unelected institutions, or corporate vultures.
"El Johnny": A Squatter Community in MadridThink about the power of any image. All over the world we visit museums to see art through which we can tell the story of our history. We use photographs daily to capture special moments and these days, we later post them to social media to share them with the world. Recently, I’ve noticed that images on signs that fill our streets are just as powerful and this is the idea I wish to expand on as we dive deeper into the story of “El Johnny”.
“El Johnny” is a building that stands out in many ways, and in this case “standing out” also means that it is a public space which communicates to every pedestrian or outsider who simply walks by. The exterior of the building is grey, the front lawns are covered with trash and graffiti takes up as much space possible. One could say, the squatters wanted to make the building their own after it was no longer a college residence, meanwhile others think graffiti is simply disrespectful. Throughout this article it is important that you keep an open mind and remember that there are always more sides to the story, especially this one. However, today I would like to focus on the graffiti as art that can help us tell the story of the squatters who made the building their home and also a social statement.
One of the main goals of the Weaving the Streets Blog and the People’s History Archive is to document how people use the streets to express themselves. How common people create and advertise grassroots movements through art, peaceful occupation, organizing protests, etc. that aren’t necessarily documented by the mainstream media. Though the question I wanted to answer with this post, is how do people express themselves when they are struggling, hungry, cold and scared?
Be it poverty, disparity, or as my generation eloquently puts it “The Struggle”, hard times can bring something out of a person. We see it every day; it could be a person playing an instrument in the subway, or people dancing in public areas, we see individuals selling their art on the street and this is all for us to empathize with their struggle, and maybe donate funds to alleviate some of the burden. But how many of us truly empathize? How many of us accept and understand these forms of expression as more than just cool things to see?
Spain is routinely referred to as a democratic country, and it does possess many of the attributes typically associated with democracy. At the same time, as I have seen during the past several months of living in Madrid, the country is also home to some profoundly anti-democratic tendencies. For many critics, these tendencies represent not an erosion of a previously democratic reality but rather a confirmation that “La Transición” (Spain’s post-1975 transition from dictatorship to democratic rule) remains fundamentally unfinished. Nowhere is this clearer that in the ongoing attempts by the state to restrict the ability of ordinary citizens to exercise freely their right to protest and to share information about what is happening in their society. In this “Weaving the Streets” post I will share what I observed and learned at a recent protest in support of Raúl Capín, an independent photojournalist who is facing potential jail time after photographing police activity at a major public demonstration in February 2013. The case is intimately connected with a broader series of issues having to do with the criminalization of information and possibility for real democratic transformation in Spain.
My name is Lydia Pendleton. I’m a junior at St. Lawrence University living in Madrid this year and this is my first post for “Weaving the Streets & People’s History Archive” (WSPHA) project. I’ve always had a profound interest for all topics anthropological or Spanish related and I am happy to say I found a topic that interests me as much as I hope it will interest all of you.